There are lots of U.S. pundits who dismiss Pakistan as an irrational, Muslim-fundamentalist, ungovernable "failed state." Lieven is offering an alternative narrative: his Pakistan is a wildly diverse, complicated but essentially resilient society where competing ethnicities, religious traditions, and economic classes somehow co-exist and are likely to continue to succeed in doing so. He labels it a "negotiated state" -- two big political parties (that are both actually ethnic and feudal assemblages) alternate ostensible control of government, occasionally interrupted by military takeovers, but underneath all the fuss, life for most Pakistanis goes on with little change.
The book is full of interesting anecdotes and arresting facts. Who would have thought that in 2002, according to economists' system for measuring such things (the Gini co-efficient), Pakistan is actually a less economically unequal society than the United States? Though millions live in absolutely destitute poverty, their plight is mitigated by family, clan and tribal ties. That is, they enjoy a safety net; it is just organized differently than ours.
I should however point out that Lieven's somewhat attractive Pakistan works not nearly so well for its women.
Lieven sees only one threat that might turn Pakistan into the violent, dangerous "failed state" of so many Western imaginings. That threat is the loss of water resources exacerbated by climate change.
That's what global warming may mean in one country. Some of the earth's oldest known civilizations arose in the Indus River valley; the collapse of the present order there could unleash hideous consequences for Pakistan's people and even for those of us half way round the globe.